Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Month In Review [February 2012]

Once again, I'm borrowing the idea from Crystal at Just Another Book Lovin' Girl to post a Month in Review. I was super ambitious this month—setting a goal of reading 14 books this month. Yeah, I know. That's a lot of books for the shortest month of the year. I didn't reach my goal, but I still read plenty!

Between being sick for several days, getting "stuck" on a few books, and totally over-committing, it's no wonder that I didn't make my goal. [Grin!] Enough of that, though. Here's what went on this month in case you missed something . . .

Books Read [8]

Favorite book this month?
This is SO tough for me, but I think my favorite was Promise Me This. I savored it for an entire week! Yep. A week. It was just that good. Very close seconds would be Words Spoken True and A Texan's Promise.

Reviews Posted [16]
Ellie's Haven by Sharlene MacLaren (FIRST Wild Card Tour)
Winter Promise by Martha Rogers (FIRST Wild Card Tour)
Mornings with Jesus (Litfuse Tour)
Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry (FIRST Wild Card Tour)

Ummm, see what I mean about being over-committed?! I'm also still trying to catch up on reviews for books I've read in previous months!

Update on Reading Challenges
I'm rocking right along on my reading challenges. I'll be updating my progress here soon. Sadly, I didn't get to read my "Just For Fun" book this month, but it's at the top of the stack for March.

Other Noteworthy Posts / Happenings
The biggest thing that happened this month (blog-wise) was posting my 500th blog post! It's hard to believe I've been here long enough for that many posts!!! I celebrated with an impromptu giveaway . . . and the winner is ANGIE!!! Kind of appropriate since Angie was the one who introduced me to Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze program. Little did she know . . . Congrats, Angie! I'll be in touch soon!

So . . . what have you been up to this month?!

Far From Here by Nicole Baart

Far From Here
by Nicole Baart
Published February 2012
Howard Books
352 pages

About the Book
How long do you hold on to hope? Danica Greene has always hated flying, so it was almost laughable that the boy of her dreams was a pilot. She married him anyway and together, she and Etsell settled into a life where love really did seem to conquer all. Danica is firmly rooted on the ground in Blackhawk, the small town in northern Iowa where they grew up, and the wide slashes of sky that stretch endlessly across the prairie seem more than enough for Etsell.

But when the opportunity to spend three weeks in Alaska helping a pilot friend presents itself, Etsell accepts and their idyllic world is turned upside down. It’s his dream, he reveals, and Danica knows that she can’t stand in the way. Ell is on his last flight before heading home when his plane mysteriously vanishes shortly after takeoff, leaving Danica in a free fall. Etsell is gone, but what exactly does gone mean? Is she a widow? An abandoned wife? Or will Etsell find his way home to her?

Danica is forced to search for the truth in her marriage and treks to Alaska to grapple with the unanswerable questions about her husband’s mysterious disappearance. But when she learns that Ell wasn’t flying alone and that a woman is missing, too, the bits and pieces of the careful life that she had constructed for them in Iowa take to the wind. A story of love and loss, and ultimately starting over, Far From Here explores the dynamics of intimacy and the potentially devastating consequences of the little white lies we tell the ones we love.

My Thoughts
I chose to review Far From Here because I read Beneath the Night Tree early last year. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was looking forward to reading another book by Nicole Baart.

The story opens with the trauma of Danica's husband's plane disappearing in Alaska. Unsure if Etsell is missing or dead, Danica can't simply move on. Instead she searches, waits, and hopes that he will return. Family and friends gather around her and support her as best they know how. Through the months of waiting, she relives the past ten years and realizes many things about their relationship, her husband, and herself. Will she ever be able to move on?

As I expected, Far From Here is a well-written, emotional story. Nicole has a unique way of helping readers feel the depth of emotion that each character feels. You can't walk away from this book thinking, "Well, that was a good book." No. Instead you feel a bit wrung out at the variety of emotions that reading it has evoked.

The cast of characters was unique. A dysfunctional family, surrogate mom, quirky neighbor. And somehow it meshed so that I ended up liking them in the end.

I had a few hangups with this book. First, it started almost painfully slow for me. Danica is not a very likeable character in the beginning of the book. I grew to like her through her flashbacks and as she dealt with her grief, but I did NOT like her in the beginning. I really had to push myself to keep reading. While the story picked up, I was still nearly halfway finished before I felt like I just had to know how it ended.

My second issue had to do with the alternating first and third person. The entire book focuses on Danica - regardless of which voice is speaking. In the beginning, especially, the switch between first and third person was just too abrupt. It just didn't flow well for me, and I had trouble making the transition. I actually (surprisingly) liked the first person voice better. Danica seemed so much more human in that voice.

Finally, the author uses some really strong language in this book. I was disappointed in the author for using this language and in the publisher (known for publishing faith-based books) for allowing it. It wasn't necessary and didn't add anything to the story. By the author's own admission on her blog, Far From Here is not a Christian book. I wish I had known that before I began reading so my expectations would have been different. [3.5 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from Howard Books in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Nicole Baart was born and raised in a small town in Iowa. She and her husband have three young sons. After the adoption of their infant son, Nicole discovered a deep passion for global issues and co-founded a non-profit organization, One Body One Hope, that works alongside a church and orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia. After the Leaves Fall and the sequel, Summer Snow (a 2009 Christy Award finalist for excellence in fiction), were Nicole's first books. She is also the author of The Moment Between and Beneath the Night Tree (February 2011), the anticipated conclusion of her first two books. The inspiration for Nicole's next novel was an unsolved murder near her hometown. Nicole and her family live in Iowa.

Nicole Baart Online
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Monday, February 27, 2012

Saving Hope by Margaret Daley

Saving Hope
by Margaret Daley
Men of the Texas Rangers, Book 1
Contemporary Christian Fiction / Suspense / Romance
Available March 2012
Abingdon Press
336 pages

About the Book
When a teenager goes missing from the Beacon of Hope School, Texas Ranger Wyatt Sheridan and school director Kate Winslow are forced into a dangerous struggle against a human trafficking organization. But the battle brings dire consequences as Wyatt's daughter is terrorized and Kate is kidnapped.  

Now it's personal, and Wyatt finds both his faith and investigative skills challenged as he fights to discover the mastermind behind the ring before evil destroys everyone he loves.

My Thoughts
In Saving Hope, Margaret Daley writes a realistic portrayal of human trafficking into a story filled with hope. Kate and Wyatt come from completely different backgrounds, but each still carries baggage that has helped shaped who they are. Intent on helping young girls escape their lifestyle of prostitution and sex trafficking, they find themselves working together when one of Kate's girls runs away from the group home that she runs.

Kate and Wyatt are the perfect team. They balance each other nicely, and sparks fly from the very beginning. The girls that live at Kate's group home are fascinating as well. Margaret weaves in bits and pieces of their stories throughout the book, which adds an element of realism to this story. While there are quite a few characters in the story, I had no trouble keeping up with them all.

Margaret is an incredible suspense writer as well. I began having suspicions about one of the "bad guys" but the other one was a complete surprise. Things came to a satisfying conclusion but never felt rushed or confusing.

The more I learn about human trafficking, the more unbelievable it is to me that slavery still exists in this day and age. I appreciate the way Margaret tackled such a difficult and sensitive topic. I know I will continue thinking about this book long after reading the last page.

I look forward to reading the next installment of this series, which is slated for release in September 2012. [4 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from Abingdon Press via Net Galley in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Margaret Daley is an award winning, multi-published author in the romance genre. One of her romantic suspense books, Hearts on the Line, won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year Contest. Recently she has won the Golden Quill Contest, FHL’s Inspirational Readers’ Choice Contest, Winter Rose Contest, Holt Medallion and the Barclay Gold Contest. She currently writes inspirational romance and romantic suspense books for the Steeple Hill Love Inspired lines.

Margaret Daley Online
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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blog Tour: Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke

Promise Me This
by Cathy Gohlke
Historical Christian Fictio
Published February 2012
Tyndale House Publishers
416 pages

About the Book
Michael Dunnagan was never supposed to sail on the Titanic, nor would he have survived if not for the courage of Owen Allen. Determined to carry out his promise to care for Owen’s relatives in America and his younger sister, Annie, in England, Michael works hard to strengthen the family’s New Jersey garden and landscaping business.

Annie Allen doesn’t care what Michael promised Owen. She only knows that her brother is gone—like their mother and father—and the grief is enough to swallow her whole. As Annie struggles to navigate life without Owen, Michael reaches out to her through letters. In time, as Annie begins to lay aside her anger that Michael lived when Owen did not, a tentative friendship takes root and blossoms into something neither expected. Just as Michael saves enough money to bring Annie to America, WWI erupts in Europe. When Annie’s letters mysteriously stop, Michael risks everything to fulfill his promise—and find the woman he’s grown to love—before she’s lost forever.

My Thoughts
I love all things Titanic, and Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke did not disappoint! When I started reading, I thought I would get an emotional romance focused around a journey on the Titanic and possibly the aftermath of the tragic sinking. I got so much more than I expected!

Cathy managed to tell the story of three individuals in a way that made it seem that they had been connected forever (and in some ways, I guess they were). The story began with the Titanic and ended sometime after World War I. I didn't realize before reading this how close those two major events were. I can't imagine going through one of those tragedies, much less two so close together.

Because the novel covered such a long period of time, I felt like I really got to know the characters. You could see real growth and struggle over a period of several years. I also appreciated how characters like Owen who were only present in a short portion of the book were still central to the rest of the story. Through Michael and Annie's story, I felt like I got to know Owen better too. Impressive!

The writing was incredible—powerful and descriptive and beautiful. Take this passage from page 44, for example:
In that moment a hundred thousand flowers filled the air, a joyous farewell from the passengers aboard Titanic. But for Annie, the shower of Bealing's buttonholes and pert nosegays—so many lovingly grown and tended by her brother—beat against her face in a stinging rain, a million petal tears to mingle with her own, flung high and swept into the sea.
See what I mean?

As far as drawbacks . . . I felt like the plot started off a little slow. However, once the book really got going, I was glad for the background that takes place over the first several chapters.

And for those of you who may be a little leery of romance novels, I wouldn't even classify this as a "romance," although there's enough romance to keep avid romantics hooked.

Promise Me This is a beautiful story of loss, family, and God's faithfulness through tragedy. I can't wait to see what Cathy writes next! [5 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale House in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Cathy Gohlke is the two-time Christy Award–winning author of William Henry is a Fine Name and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, which also won the American Christian Fiction Writers' Book of the Year Award and was listed by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of 2008.

Cathy has worked as a school librarian, drama director, and director of children's and education ministries. When not traipsing the hills and dales of historic sites, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, make their home on the banks of the Laurel Run in Elkton, Maryland.

Cathy Gohlke Online

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Little Fun for the Weekend

It's Friday!!!

I don't know about you, but I am ready for this weekend! 

In lieu of my normal Friday posts, I thought I would tell you about an awesome blogaversary party that's going on this week. Megan at Hardcover Feedback is celebrating one year of blogging and has some incredible giveaways going on! The party ends on March 3 (next Saturday), so be sure to stop by before then.

Oh, and don't forget about my giveaway that ends on Monday.

Hope you guys have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

500 and Counting

Yesterday, I posted my 500th post!

Seems like a lot to you? Yeah, well, it seems like a lot to me too!

I have thoroughly enjoyed the past (almost) two years of blogging here at i blog 4 books. I'm thankful for all of you who read this little ol' blog! I'm quite positive that I wouldn't still be blogging if no one was out there reading.

Because I'm doing a little happy dance in my chair right now, I thought I'd share the love and have an impromptu giveaway!

All the Details:

We'll keep things simple, so just post a comment on this post if you want to enter. Make sure I have a way to get in touch with you if you win! Feel free to share the news any way you like, but comments will be the only entries.

The giveaway will run through Monday, February 27. The winner will be contacted and have 48 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen. You must reside in the US to win.

Oh . . . you want to know what you can win? Well, it's your choice! You can win ONE of the following books from my shelves:

The Chair by James L. Rubart (ARC)

Heart of Gold by Robin Lee Hatcher

The House of Hope by Elisabeth Gifford

Threads of Hope by Andrea Boeshaar

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sweeter than Birdsong by Rosslyn Elliott

Sweeter than Birdsong
by Rosslyn Elliott
The Saddler's Legacy, Book 2
Christian Fiction / Historical / Romance
Published February 7, 2012
Thomas Nelson
400 pages

About the Book
Music offers Kate sweet refuge from her troubles . . . but real freedom is sweeter.

In Westerville, Ohio, 1855, Kate Winter’s dreams are almost within reach. As the first woman to graduate from Otterbein College, she’ll be guaranteed her deepest wish: escape from the dark secret haunting her family. But with her mother determined to marry her off to a wealthy man, Kate must face reality. She has to run. Now. And she has the perfect plan. Join the upcoming musical performance—and use it to mask her flight.

Ben Hanby, Otterbein College’s musical genius, sees Kate Winter as an enigmatic creature, notable for her beauty, yet painfully shy. Then he hears her sing—and the glory of her voice moves him as never before. He determines to cast her in his musical and uncover the mystery that is Kate. Still, he must keep his own secret to himself. Not even this intriguing woman can know that his passionate faith is driving him to aid fugitives on the Underground Railroad.

A terrifying accident brings Kate and Ben together, but threatens to shatter both their secrets and their dreams. Kate can no longer deny the need to find her courage—and her voice—if she is to sing a new song for their future.

My Thoughts
As much as I enjoyed Rosslyn Elliott's debut novel Fairer than Morning, I think I liked Sweeter than Birdsong even better. Therefore, I'm feeling quite a bit of pressure to write a really excellent, perfectly worded review to do Rosslyn's work justice! :)

Kate thinks that graduating from college will provide an escape from life with her dysfunctional family. Her fear of public speaking threatens her dreams for a better life, and when things go from bad to worse at home, running away from home seems to be the only answer. As she becomes friends with Ben Hanby and his family, she is thrust into the middle of a dangerous plot to rescue a slave family as part of the Underground Railroad. As she helps fugitives to freedom, Kate realizes that her own chance at freedom may be slipping away. Will she ever be free from her family?

This was an absolutely delightful book! I was glad to read more of the Hanby's story and enjoed getting to know Will, Kate, and their friends. Will was such a gentleman—and so different from his rakish brother! Kate was probably the most intriguing character to me. She was so painfully shy in the beginning that I wasn't sure how (or if!) she was going to turn into the heroine of the story. Rosslyn did a marvelous job of telling Kate's story, though, and showing how she grew throughout the book.

The story absolutely gripped me. Much of the story focused on slavery and those helping slaves escape through the Underground Railroad. It was a unique perspective for sure. I kept wondering how I would respond if I lived in that time period. I certainly despise slavery now (with the benefit of 150+ years of hindsight), but what would I have thought back then? And more importantly, would I have done anything about it? This book has kept me thinking for weeks after reading it, which is definitely the sign of a great book!

Anyone who loves historical novels, romance, and a little action, will enjoy this book! [5 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson and Litfuse Publicity in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Rosslyn Elliott is the award-winning author of Fairer than Morning, the first in the Saddler's Legacy series. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and a Ph.D. in English from Emory University. Her study of American literature and history inspired her to pursue writing fiction. Elliott lives in Albuquerque, where she homeschools her daughter and works in children's ministry.

Rosslyn Elliott Online
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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

FIRST Wildcard Tour: Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry

Not in the Heart
by Chris Fabry
Contemporary Christian Fiction
Published January 2012
Tyndale House
432 pages

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (January 20, 2012)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings – The B&B Media Group – for sending me a review copy.***

About the Book
Truman Wiley used to report news stories from around the world, but now the most troubling headlines are his own. He’s out of work, out of touch with his family, out of his home. But nothing dogs him more than his son’s failing heart.

With mounting hospital bills and Truman’s penchant for gambling his savings, the situation seems hopeless . . . until his estranged wife throws him a lifeline—the chance to write the story of a death row inmate, a man convicted of murder who wants to donate his heart to Truman’s son.

As the execution clock ticks down, Truman uncovers disturbing evidence that points to a different killer. For his son to live, must an innocent man die? Truman’s investigation draws him down a path that will change his life, his family, and the destinies of two men forever.

My Thoughts
Well. I'm about halfway finished with this book. It's completely fascinating. The idea of a death-row inmate requesting to donate his organs to a child in need. I'm not sure what I would do in that scenario! Then throw in the fact that the father of the child that needs the organ is investing the guilt/innocence of the donor and thinks he might be innocent. Again, I'm not sure what to do with all of this!

To be honest, though, I'm having a hard time getting through the book. I can not STAND Truman (the main character). He is just so completely unlikable that I'm having to force myself to keep reading. The writing is fantastic, but there's just something about this character that I can't get into.

I hope to finish the book soon and will post an updated review when I do.

Updated 8/25/2012: It's been six months since I posted my initial comments on this book with a promise to post again once I finished. I still haven't finished the book yet, so I'm going to DNF this one. I hate doing that, but I haven't "found" the time to pick it up again and I don't see that happening soon. The portion I read was well-written, but I just didn't connect with the main character which made reading the book more of a chore than I like. I've heard great things about Fabry's books, so I may try another one in the future.

I received a free copy from Tyndale House and FIRST Wildcard Blog Tours in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
As a child, Chris Fabry wrote stories, songs and poems. The creative process invigorated him. He may not have been a fast reader, but the words on the page had a deep effect. So he vowed that if he ever had the chance to write, he would take it.

After high school, Fabry attended and graduated from the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism at Marshall University in Huntington, WV. After graduation, Fabry and his wife felt a desire for biblical education, so his pastor suggested they check out Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. At Moody, Fabry met Jerry Jenkins who learned of his desire to write and encouraged him to pursue his dream. In 1998, Jenkins and Dr. Tim LaHaye hired him to write Left Behind: The Kids series. He wrote 35 books in that series over the next six years. He later collaborated with Jenkins on the Red Rock Mysteries series and The Wormling series, and in 2008 he worked solo on the NASCAR-based RPM series.

Since then he has published four novels for adults: Dogwood, June Bug, Almost Heaven and his newest novel, Not in the Heart. Each of his first three books was nominated for a Christy Award in the Contemporary Standalone Category, winning in 2009 for Dogwood and in 2011 for Almost Heaven. In addition to his fiction work, Fabry also collaborated on two best-selling football biographies with Ohio State’s Jim Tressel and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints. Altogether, Fabry has published more than 70 books for children and adults.

Fabry’s other passion is broadcasting. As part of the DECCA program in high school, he worked at WNST Radio in Milton, WV. During his senior year at Marshall University, he worked for WSAZ-TV as a weekend reporter. In 1985, he began hosting Open Line, a national call-in show which he hosted until 1997. In 1993, he began a six-year stint as co-host of Mornings with Greg and Chris on WMBI in Chicago. Then in May of 2008 he began Chris Fabry Live! which received the 2008 Talk Personality of the Year Award from the National Religious Broadcasters. He can also be heard daily on Love Worth Finding, featuring the teaching of the late Dr. Adrian Rogers.

Chris and his wife of almost 30 years, Andrea, are the parents of nine children.

Chris Fabry Online
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30 days before execution

The trouble with my wife began when she needed Jesus and I needed a cat. Life can be that way. That’s part of the reason I was on Sanibel Island in the cottage I had always dreamed of owning and she was in Tallahassee tending to the sick son of our youth. But it’s more complicated. There was more troubling me than religion or people who think problems can be solved with a leap of faith.
Said cottage was a tiny house that seems to be the rage among those who believe we are warming the planet with each exhale. I didn’t buy it because of that, but I recycle my Coors Light cans. My little contribution to the cause. Lately it’s been a hefty contribution. There was one bedroom in the back and a little bathroom, a walk-through kitchen, and a living area that I used as an office. Murrow usually sat in the window looking out at the beach with as much interest as I have in paying both of my mortgages. It’s not that I don’t want to pay. I can’t.
I was on the bed, surfing news sites, fueling the ache about my lack of direction and lack of a job. The satellite TV company disconnected me a few months ago, so I got my news online from the unprotected network of a neighbor who can’t encrypt his wireless router.
I could see the downsizing coming in every area of the conglomerate media company. I knew it would hit the newsroom, but I always thought when the music stopped, I would have a chair. What I got was severance, a pat on the back, and a shelf full of awards I stuffed into a suitcase that sat in the attic of a cottage I couldn’t afford.
I closed my laptop and told Murrow I’d be back, as if she cared, and walked barefoot out the front door and down the long, wooden stairway to the beach. I bought this cottage for these long, head-clearing walks. The sound of the waves crashing against doubts and fears. The smell of the ocean and its salty cycle of life and death.
A mom and a dad dressed in white strolled along the beach with two kids who squealed every time the water came close.
I walked the other way.
The phone rang as I passed a dead seagull. Not a good omen.
“Tru, it’s me.”
The woman of my dreams. The woman of my nightmares. Everything good and bad about my life. The “I do” that “I didn’t.”
“Ellen. What’s up?”
“How are you?” She said it with a measure of compassion, as if she weren’t holding back years of boiling anger. As if she didn’t have something else she wanted to ask me and wasn’t just setting the stage for the coup de grâce.
“I’m good. Just taking a walk on the beach.”
Wish you weren’t here. Wish you weren’t still in my head. Wish you hadn’t called. Wish the last twenty years were something I could bury in the sand. What were you thinking marrying a guy like me? My life is a sand castle and my days are wind and water.
“Hear anything back yet? Any offers?”
“There’s nothing plural about my job prospects. Not even singular. I did hear from the Fox station in Des Moines yesterday. They went with somebody with longer hair and bigger lungs.”
She spoke with a wry smile. “It’s only a matter of time; you know that.”
“Right. It’s always been a matter of time, hasn’t it?”
She let the irony hang there between us, and I could picture her in her wedding dress and without it. Then the first time we met in the university newsroom, big glasses and frilly blouse. Hair that smelled like the ocean and felt like silk. A sharp wit, infectious laugh, and the tenacity of a bloodhound on every story she covered. I thought we were always going to be on the same page, but somehow I kept chasing headlines and she moved to the Life section.
“I have something that might interest you,” she said.
“How old is she?” I’m not always a smart aleck with the people I love. When I’m asleep, they tell me I don’t say much of anything.
“It’s not a she. It’s a he with a pretty good story. A great story. A life changer.”
“Not into guys.”
She sighed and plowed ahead. “Have you heard of Terrelle Conley?”
That was like asking a history major if she’d ever heard of Alexis de Tocqueville. “I know he’s facing the needle.”
“Right. Next month.”
“Wonder what his last meal will be. How do they choose that anyway? Shrimp and steak or lobster bisque? Macaroni and cheese? How can you enjoy a meal knowing you only have hours left? Or what movie to watch? What would you choose?”
“I know his wife, Oleta. She wants somebody to write the story from his perspective. The whole family does.”
I laughed. “In thirty days or less.”
“They’ve scraped up some money. Not much, but it could probably help.”
“How much is ‘probably’?”
“I don’t know exactly, but I was thinking you could call Gina and find out if—”
“I’m not with Gina or the agency anymore. She dropped me. Said it was a hard decision on their part. I guess they took a vote.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Just another bump in the literary highway. I don’t think writing is my thing, anyway.” I said it halfheartedly, coaxing some kind of compliment.
“You’re a great writer,” she obliged. “You haven’t had as many opportunities lately, but . . .”
“I haven’t had any politicians who want to be president or sports stars who’ve been accused of steroids approach me in a few years. That’s what you mean,” I said. “Where did you meet Olatha?”
“Oleta. I met her at church.”
Groan. How did I know that was coming?
I paused at a sand castle that had been constructed with several five-gallon buckets. Towels and chairs had been abandoned for the moment. Water filled the moat, and I heard laughter from a bungalow perched like a lighthouse above. A couple in love.
“You must have some idea of how much.”
“A few thousand. We didn’t talk about that. The important thing . . . it’s not just an opportunity for you. It’s for Aiden.”
“Now you’re really getting cryptic. You want to back up?”
“Terrelle’s wife is in a study group with me. She’s known about Aiden’s condition for years. Always asks for updates. Terrelle came up with the idea—he wants to be a donor. A second chance for Aiden.”
I should have been doing cartwheels. Our eighteen-year-old son could get a new lease on life? Instead, I was skeptical, like any good journalist. “Ellen, there’s no chance. Do you know how long something like that would take?”
“It’s been in process for a while.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You haven’t exactly been available.”
“The prison system, the authorities, they’ll never let this—”
“The governor is taking it seriously. I’ve heard he’s working with the legislature. It’s not a done deal, but there’s a chance.”
The governor. The hair rose on the back of my neck.
“Ellen, there’s some law firm in Tallahassee salivating at all the appeals and counterappeals that are going to happen. This is less than a long shot.”
“Yeah, but right now it’s looking like a pretty good long shot.” There was emotion in her voice and for the first time I noticed noise in the background.
“Where are you?”
She swallowed hard and I imagined her wiping away a tear. My wife has had plenty of practice.
“At the hospital again,” she said. “ICU.”
I cursed under my breath and away from the phone. Not just because of all the hospital bills I knew were coming my way, but also because this was my son. I’ll be honest—the bills were the first thing I thought of, but picturing him hooked up to tubes and needles again crushed me.
“How is he?”
“Not good. They’re monitoring him. Same story.”
“How long have you been there?”
“Since late last night. He was having trouble breathing. Lots of pain. He asks about you.”
Guilt. She had to get that in there, didn’t she?
“Tell him to hang in there, okay?”
“Come see him. It would mean so much.”
“Yeah. I will.” I said it fast, though I knew I’d have to launder all the cat hair from my clothes because Aiden’s deathly allergic to cats just like I’m allergic to the inside of the death chamber.
Someone spoke over the intercom near her and the sound took me back to those first days when I wasn’t as scared of hospitals. Back then I could watch a movie or a TV show with a medical setting. Now I can’t even watch the TV promos. My chest gets tight and the smell of alcohol and Betadine and the shape of needles invades, mingling with the cries of a young child in pain and another memory of a man on a gurney.
We discovered Aiden’s heart malady by accident. Ellen was into natural food, natural medicine, whole-grain seaweed sandwiches and eggs that came from free-range chickens who had bedtime stories read to them each night before they settled into their nests. Natural childbirth with a midwife. All that stuff. She was convinced antibiotics were the forbidden fruit, so she didn’t run to the HMO every time our kids were sick. But something told her to take Abby in for some chest congestion she couldn’t get rid of. Aiden was with her, and on a lark the doctor placed the stethoscope on his chest.
Ellen cried when she tried to explain the look on the woman’s face. They’d missed it when he was born.
That sent us on a crash course of congenital heart defects and a series of surgeries and treatments that would change our lives. Ellen hates hospitals as much as I do, but you do what you must for your kids.
“Terrelle has the same blood type,” Ellen said. “He’s about the same size as Aiden, maybe a little smaller, which is good.”
“Ellen, you know this is not going to happen, right? There are so many hoops and holes. They don’t let doctors execute people.”
“There are guidelines, but they don’t have a problem harvesting organs from an already-deceased donor.”
“Anybody who’s pro-life will howl. I thought you were pro-life.”
“I am, but this is something Terrelle wants.”
“Doesn’t matter. They harvest organs from prisoners in China, but we’re not in China.” Though you wouldn’t know it by shopping at Walmart.
“I know all that. But I also know my son is going to die. And Terrelle and his wife want something good to come out of their tragedy. They asked if you would write his story. I got to thinking that maybe . . .”
She broke a little and hearing her cry felt like some lonely prayer drifting away and hitting the empty shores of heaven. Not that I believe there is one, but you know, metaphorically speaking.
“You were thinking what?” I said.
“Maybe all of this is not really for Aiden. Maybe all we’ve been through in the last eighteen years is for somebody else. If they deny Terrelle’s request and Aiden doesn’t make it, maybe writing this story will make a difference for someone down the road.”
Her altruism was more than I could handle. “Look, I don’t care about all the people with sick kids. I don’t care about prisoners who want to make up for their crimes. I don’t care about protesters or the politicians who’ve found a wedge issue. I just want my son to live. Is that asking too much?”
The emotion surprised me and I noticed the family in white had changed direction but now quickly herded their children away from me.
It was Ellen’s turn to sound collected. “Do you have time to work on something like that in the next thirty days? It would at least pay a few bills.”
“If they’re trying to get a stay of execution, they need to go straight to the press. Forget a book deal, forget a magazine exposé—it’s already too late. Get somebody at one of the local stations to pick it up and run with it—”
“Tru, they don’t want a stay. He wants to give his heart to Aiden. And somebody has to get the story down before it’s over. No matter how it goes, this will make a great story.”
I was already mulling titles in my head. A Heart from Death Row. Change of Heart. Pitter-Pat. Life in Vein. Aorta Made a Better Choice.
She continued, “They know your history. What you’ve seen. How you’re against the death penalty and why. For all your faults, Tru, you’re the best reporter I’ve ever known. You get to the heart of the story like nobody else. I think you should consider it.”
The Heart of the Story. Another good title. I could tell she was buttering me up. I love being buttered up by lovely women. But I hate the complications of life with beautiful women.
“I don’t write evangelical tracts.”
“Why are you so stubborn?” she whisper-screamed at me. Her voice had an echo like she had moved into the bathroom or stairwell. “Why do you have to look at this as some kind of spiritual conspiracy against you instead of a gift? This is being handed to you on a platter. Don’t push it away. I don’t care if you agree with them about God. You didn’t agree with every sports figure or politician.”
“The only way I know how to do this job is to ferret out the truth and tell it. Flat out. The way I see it. And if you’re expecting me to throw in the third verse of a hymn every other chapter and quote the Gospel of Terrelle, I can’t do that. Call somebody from the Christian right.”
“Tru, it’s because of who you are and how you tell the story that they want you. Just talk with her. Let her explain. If you don’t like the situation, they’ll go somewhere else. But they have to act quickly.”
The sun was coming down behind me and the wind picked up off the water. I could smell the first hint of an impending storm. Or maybe I forgot my deodorant.
“I’ll think about it.”
I hadn’t been gone that long, but as I walked up the stairs, I heard a vehicle pulling away from the house. The taillights had disappeared into the distance by the time I made it to my front door.
Murrow was still in the window, looking down on me with that superior look. Humans are such a waste of oxygen, she seemed to say. Maybe she was right. Maybe we are a waste of oxygen and the best thing would be for us to be wiped from the planet. But something inside said that wasn’t true. Something inside pushed me to keep moving, like an ant dragging a piece of grass along the sidewalk until a strong wind blows it away. The ant picks up another and starts over. I get exhausted just watching them.
On the front door was a legal document stating that whereby and forthwith said mortgage company had begun said process with an intent to foreclose and otherwise vacate said occupant’s tail onto the street to wit and wheretofore so help them God, amen. I had received several such letters in the mail, filing them carefully, hoping the rising tide of foreclosures would save my little cottage until I got a new job.
I ripped the notice down and used it to wipe the sand from my feet. And then a thought struck. A horrible, no-good, bad thought. The newspaper. They published my name with each intent to foreclose. That meant others would know where I was. Others, as in people I owed. Bad people.
Another car passed, slowly. Tinted windows. A low rumble of expensive metal and fuel.
I hurried to the back of the little house and pulled out every suitcase I could find and stowed everything of value. Books. Pictures of me with newsmakers. Cloudy memories of trips abroad, war zones, interviews with generals and dignitaries who went on to fame or perished in motorcades that didn’t make it through IEDs.
It was hard not to sit and absorb the memories, but the passing car gave urgency. I jammed every journal and notebook in with the pictures, then put one suitcase with clothes in the trunk of my car and took the rest on my shoulder down the sandy path to the Grahams’ house. Sweet people. He retired from the Air Force and they moved for the sun and salty air. Both should have died long ago from arthritis and other maladies, but they were out walking the beach every day like two faithful dogs, paw in paw.
Jack and Millie were on the front porch, and I asked if I could borrow some space in their garage for a suitcase or two. “I need to take a trip. Someone new will be living in my house.”
“Relatives coming?”
“No, someone from the Bank of America wants it.”
Millie struggled to get out of her rocker and stood by a white column near the front door. “If you need help, Truman, we’d be glad to.”
Jack nodded and the gesture almost brought tears to my eyes. “How much are you short?” he said.
“Just a spot in the garage is all I need.”
“What about your cat?” Millie said.
“Murrow’s going with me.”
“If we can do anything at all . . . ,” Jack’s voice trailed.
“I appreciate it. I appreciate both of you. Thanks for your kindness.”
“We pray for Aiden every day,” Millie said.
The garage was spotless. Everything hanging up or neatly placed on shelves. I should have joined the Air Force. In the back I found an empty space near some gardening tools. I shook Jack’s hand gently and gave Millie a hug. I only turned and looked at them once as I walked back to the house. They stood like sentinels, the fading light of the sun casting a golden glow around them and their house.
When Murrow saw the cat carrier, she bolted under the sofa and I threatened to sell her to the local Chinese restaurant. An open can of StarKist and my tender, compassionate voice helped coax her into the carrier, and we were off.
I texted my wife: Will call your friend tomorrow. Can I use Abby’s room?
The phone buzzed in my shirt pocket as I drove along the causeway into darkening clouds. Key under frog. No cats. The next text gave Oleta’s number and a short message. You were made for this story.
Maybe she was right. Maybe I was the one for this job. One loser telling the story of his kindred spirit. I sure didn’t have anything better to do. But with the window down and my hand out, being pushed back by the cool air, it felt less like the start of a new chapter and more like the end of one.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Words Spoken True by Ann H. Gabhart

Words Spoken True
by Ann H. Gabhart
Christian Fiction / Historical / Romance / Suspense
Published February 2012
356 pages

About the Book
Adriane Darcy was practically raised in her father's newspaper offices. She can't imagine life without the clatter of the press and the push to be first to write the news that matters. Their Tribune is the leading paper in Louisville in 1855. Then Blake Garrett, a brash young editor from the North with a controversial new style of reporting, takes over failing competitor the Herald, and the battle for readers gets fierce.

When Adriane and Blake meet at a benefit tea, their surprising mutual attraction is hard to ignore. Still, Blake is the enemy, and Adriane is engaged to the son of a powerful businessman who holds the keys to the Tribune's future. Blake will stop at almost nothing to get the story--and the girl. Can he do both before it's too late?

Set against the volatile backdrop of political and civil unrest in 1850s Louisville, this exciting story of love and loyalty will hold readers in its grip until the very last page. Bestselling author Ann H. Gabhart once again delivers an enthralling and enduring tale for her loyal and ever-expanding fan base.

My Thoughts
Words Spoken True is a fascinating book that gives readers insight into the tensions in Louisville during the 1850s. Ann H. Gabhart does an incredible job of balancing the history of the time with the fictitious story of Adriane, Blake, and their friends and family.

The characters were captivating. I felt an instant connection with Adriane. She loves her life but bucks against the constraints of proper society—especially since society says she can't help her father run his newspaper. Blake was dashing and I loved the tension between Blake and Adriane. It was obvious that there was a connection there but they fought against it with everything they had. They were supposed to be enemies, after all! Plus, their relationship was just so . . . romantic! Blake is a true hero, and I absolutely loved him! I also found myself having very strong reactions (both good and bad!) to some of the secondary characters, which just goes to show you how great Ann is at character development.

There were a couple of scenes that probably would be somewhat "steamy" if shown in a movie, but Ann handled these scenes quite tastefully—showing the depth of Adriane and Blake's relationship but also keeping it clean enough for a Christian fiction novel. (I don't want to give anything away, but the scenes were totally appropriate for the situation.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book  look forward to reading more by Ann H. Gabhart. [5 stars]

Available February 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. I received a free copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of several novels, including Angel Sister, The Outsider, The Believer, The Seeker, and The Blessed. She lives with her husband a mile from where she was born in Kentucky.

Ann H. Gabhart Online
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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Falls Like Lightning by Shawn Grady

Falls Like Lightning
by Shawn Grady
Christian Fiction / Suspense / Romance
Published July 2011
Bethany House
368 pages

About the Book
Smokejumper Silas Kent never expected to see pilot Elle Westmore again. In fact, reuniting makes him realize what a mistake he made all those years ago. But before he has a chance to try to make amends, he's called to lead a new crew into battle against a massive fire in the Sierra Nevadas.

And then things go very wrong, very quickly.

A suspicious engine explosion forces the crew to parachute early while Elle barely survives a crash landing. Silas reaches the ground safely, but in beginning a desperate race to reach the downed plane, he soon realizes he has more to fear than just a raging forest fire.

My Thoughts
Shawn Grady was a new-to-me author and I was pleasantly surprised! Fast-paced, suspenseful, and a bit romantic, Falls Like Lightning is a page-turner. Silas and Elle are reunited after years apart. They must quickly decide if they can trust each other again as they face a plane crash, injuries, and rogue teammates. Grady's experience as a firefighter adds a lot to the novel, although there were a few times where I got bogged down by some of the "lingo."

It takes a lot to surprise me as far as suspense goes, but Grady kept me guessing through most of the book. Overall, I was impressed with the book and look forward to future novels from this up-and-coming author. [4 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Shawn Grady has served for more than a decade as a firefighter and paramedic in Reno, NV, where he lives with his wife and three children. Named the "Most Promising Writer" at the 2008 Mt. Hermon Writers Conference, he is the author of Through the Fire.

Author Name Online

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Five [Valentine's Edition]

Today I bring you a Valentine's Day inspired Friday Five. I saw a lot of great love-themed posts this week and wanted to share the love (pun intended!).

If you want to play along, make your list, link up with Kate, and let the original posters know that you linked to them. The "rules" are all here. However, it seems that Kate is no longer doing Friday Five, so I will probably create my own button and just continue on my own.

1. I loved this post on making sure your priorities are in order when celebrating fun holidays like Valentine's. YES! Get lost in God's love before getting all crazy over some silly boy or girl ... or even your spouse!

2. Ahhh . . . profound words about love. I'm still mulling them over.

3. I recently discovered Robin Lee Hatcher and loved her thoughts on love.

4. I also just discovered Ann H. Gabhart (and loved her latest book!), so I thought I'd pass along her reminiscences of Valentine's past. This post made me giggle . . . I just love cheesy Valentine's! She also guest-posted on Sunnybank Meanderings that same day, so consider this a two-for-one link. [Grin!]

5. And last but not least, this post by Jody Hedlund makes the list because she provides me a wonderful defense to all the nay-sayers out there who poke fun at my love for romance novels and dismiss said books altogether since they are not "real literature."

I'd love to know what you've been reading out there in blogworld!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Belonging by Robin Lee Hatcher

by Robin Lee Hatcher
Where the Heart Lives, Book 1
Christian Fiction / Historical / Romance
Published September 2011

277 pages

About the Book
Can two bitter pasts make one sweet future?

In the high desert town of Frenchman’s Bluff, Idaho, Felicia Kristoffersen has set out to create a future for herself that is better than her painful past. Alone in the world with only her faith to sustain her, she must prove herself as this tiny community’s new school teacher. She cannot, must not, fail. But there are those who never wanted her there to begin with.

Five years after the death of his wife, local merchant Colin Murphy cares about just one thing: raising his daughter, Charity. Colin wants to give her the educational advantages he never had. The new schoolmarm’s inexperience doesn’t sit well with him, and if this teacher up and marries like the last one did, Charity’s heart will be broken once again.

A woman who hasn’t known love. A man who lost the love he had.

In the midst of the wide, sage-covered plains, each is about to discover that life’s bitterest circumstances truly can work together for good.

My Thoughts
After recently discovering Robin Lee Hatcher, I was eager to dive into another of her historical fiction novels. Belonging, the first in the Where the Heart Lives series, is a sweet story of friendship, community, and love.

While this is a "romance" novel, I really felt that the best and deepest relationship in the book was between Felicia and Kathleen, a woman who befriends Felicia when she first comes to town. They were true friends to one another, and I loved seeing that relationship grow stronger throughout the book. As far as romance, once Colin and Felicia finally (!) started talking to each other, their relationship progressed along rapidly and was so sweet!

At times the plot seemed like it either lagged or rushed ahead. For instance, I would have loved to see the relationship between Kathleen and her love interest develop at a more realistic pace rather than just happen over two days.

Overall, this was a really sweet story and I look forward to learning more about Felicia's family and hopefully meeting her brother and sister in future books. [3.5 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from Zondervan via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Best-selling novelist Robin Lee Hatcher is known for her heartwarming and emotionally charged stories of faith, courage, and love. She discovered her vocation after many years of reading everything she could put her hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. The winner of the Idahope Writer of the Year, the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, two RITA Awards for Best Inspirational Romance, two RT Career Achievement Awards (Americana Romance and Inspirational Fiction), and the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award, Robin is the author of over 60 novels. Her historical romance Catching Katie was named one of the Best Books of 2004 by the Library Journal.

Robin enjoys being with her family, spending time in the beautiful Idaho outdoors, reading books that make her cry, and watching romantic movies. She is passionate about the theater, and several nights every summer, she can be found at the outdoor amphitheater of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, enjoying plays under the stars. Her main hobby (when time allows) is knitting, and she has a special love for making prayer shawls. Robin and her husband make their home on the outskirts of Boise, sharing it with Poppet, the high-maintenance Papillon, and Princess Pinky, the DC (demon cat).

Robin Lee Hatcher Online
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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

One Perfect Word by Debbie Macomber

One Perfect Word
by Debbie Macomber
Non-Fiction / Christian Living / Memoir
Published January 2012
Howard Books
208 pages

About the Book
In the tradition of One Simple Act and God’s Guest List, perennial bestselling novelist Debbie Macomber reveals in inspiring, moving stories that the simplicity of one perfect word can become profound. When Debbie took the time to intentionally focus on a single word—such as prayer, trust, or surrender—for a whole year, this act changed not only herself, but those around her.

"The surprising thing is that when we decide to focus on one word for the year," Debbie writes, "God takes part in the choosing. That’s why the word is perfect for us. We may not see it at the time, but as we look back we see that it all worked together—our word, our life, our journey." For example, the year she chose the word balance, her career moved to a whole new level. The pressures on Debbie to speak, promote, and practically live on the road were overwhelming. It was her yearlong focus on that all-too-difficult word balance that helped her refine her schedule. As you read Debbie’s and others’ stories, you will be inspired to find your own word and will see how one perfect word can make all the difference.

My Thoughts
One Perfect Word is an inspiring book detailing Debbie Macomber's annual tradition of choosing a word to study in depth throughout the year. Each chapter is a unique collection of stories, quotes, Scriptures, and reflections on what Debbie learned during a yearlong study on a particular word.
The book is intensely personal and Debbie allows readers into her personal life, diaries, and prayer journals. She shares about becoming a Christian, her journey to publication, and her separation and near-divorce. I truly felt as if I knew her when I finished reading the book. More importantly, though, I felt like I knew God better.

Last year I chose a word for the year. However, I love the idea of not only choosing a word to strive towards but really studying the word and finding out what Scripture has to say about the word / concept as well. I was encouraged by the study methods and practical applications suggested throughout the book. I can't recommend this book (or practice!) highly enough. [5 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from Howard Books in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Debbie Macomber, the author of Hannah's List, Summer on Blossom Street, Twenty Wishes and the Cedar Cove series, is one of today's leading voices in women's fiction. She is a regular on every major bestseller list with more than 140 million copies of her books in print. Debbie's popularity is worldwide with her books translated into twenty-three languages. Debbie and her husband, Wayne, are the proud parents of four children and grandparents of eight grandchildren. They live in Washington State and winter in Florida.

Debbie Macomber Online
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(in)real life

If you've been reading here for any time at all, you've probably seen a reference or two (or ten!) to (in)courage. I love the community that blogging can inspire and (in)courage does an excellent job of encouraging women and pointing them to the Word.

In two short months, the lovely ladies at (in)courage are getting together for the (in)real life conference and inviting women across the country and around the world (!!!) to gather together in their homes for a sweet time of community.

Here are a few details to whet your appetite . . .

When? April 27-28 (Friday and Saturday)

Cost? $10 per person. Yup. You read that correctly. Just $10! And you get a t-shirt and an awesome Simply Marvelous card pack.

What will you do? On Friday night, you'll watch a webcast for about an hour that will provide the intro for the weekend. Then, on Saturday, groups of awesome ladies will gather together for approximately three hours (or more!), watch videos provided by the (in)courage team, and do whatever else that your group wants to do! It's totally customizable to your group and your schedules.

That's the real beauty. Because the "conference" is driven by web content, you can work it in around your busy schedule!

I hope you will consider joining in for the weekend's festivities! Be sure to check out all the details here. Want to see if there's a group meeting up near you? You can find out here. Oh . . . and if you'd like an extra "treat," you can blog about the upcoming event. Get those details here.
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